Administrative Agency "Within the Judicial Realm" Not Subject to PRA, According to New Court Decision
In West v. Washington State Association of District and Municipal Court Judges, a state agency, 2015 WL 6680205 (Div. I, November 2, 2015), Division I held that the Washington State Association of District and Municipal Court Judges (the Association) is a judicial branch agency for purposes of the Public Records Act (PRA), chapter 42.56 RCW. Although the Association does not hear and decide cases, it conducts some of the traditional administrative business of the courts and by statute reports on the business of the courts to the legislature and to the Supreme Court. RCW 3.70.040. This function places the Association squarely “within the judicial realm,” and therefore outside the scope of the PRA, under the test developed in Nast v. Michels, 107 Wn.2d 300, 730 P.2d 54 (1986).
In Nast, the Supreme Court held that the King County Department of Judicial Administration was not subject to the PRA because “its function as custodian for court case files places it within the judicial realm.” 107 Wn.2d at 305. Thus the court took a functional view to determine whether an agency, otherwise within the purview of the PRA, was within the judiciary and for that reason not subject to the requirements of the PRA.
Like the Department of Judicial Administration in Nast, the Association in West exists solely to perform statutory functions that are “all part and parcel of the type of administrative work that judges do and have always done.” Given that its functions are “judicial,” the Association is outside the realm of the PRA and its rules do not apply. Note that in Nast, the common law right of access to court case files controlled over the more general language of public disclosure laws applicable to state and local governments, and in subsequent cases, courts held that those disclosure laws do not to apply to the judicial branch at all. See City of Federal Way v. Koenig, 167 Wn.2d 341, 345-46, 217 P.3d 1172 (2009), citing Spokane & E. Lawyer v. Tompkins, 136 Wn. App. 616, 621–22, 150 P.3d 158 (upholding denial of public records request for correspondence from county judges to the bar association regarding local lawyers); Beuhler v. Small, 115 Wn. App. 914, 918, 64 P.3d 78 (2003) (upholding denial of public records request for a computer file containing a judge's notes on prior sentences he had imposed).